Arthouse DVD round-up
Reviews of Breaking the Waves, Leviathan, Sofia’s Last Ambulance, Venus in Fur, Cycling with Moliere and more
Lars von Trier was a fascinating director before Breaking the Waves (Artificial Eye) ●●●●● but it was this account of a woman living in Skye with a belief quite at odds with the religious faith of the elders that allowed us to see he was a great one. Emily Watson stars; Stellan Skarsgaard and the late Katrin Cartlidge support.
Some might wonder whether the Dardenne brothers have long since peaked, with Rosetta made over 15 years ago surely their finest film. But we shouldn’t underestimate Two Days and One Night (Artificial Eye) ●●●●, with Marion Cotillard attempting to persuade her work colleagues she should get her job back, rather than being laid off so they can have a bit more money in their pockets. The film, echoing the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, is all about face-to-face encounters as she insists on speaking to each of her colleagues in turn, trying to get them to see the human cost of an economic decision.
Another recent release worth a look is Andrei Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan (Artificial Eye) ●●●●. There has always been a ponderous portentous quality to the director’s images (The Return, The Banishment, Elena) and he can sometimes too readily telegraph developments in the story (the affair here), but he knows how to frame and push a narrative forward. This tale about a corrupt mayor determined to repossess land and throw a family out of their home, manages to feel both timeless and timely.
These are big films, but there are smaller ones worth seeing though easily missed. Both Sofia’s Last Ambulance (Second Run) ●●●● and Pictures of the Old World (Second Run) ●●● indicate despair no matter if the former is set in the present, in post-Communist Bulgaria, and the latter set in the past, in Communist Czechoslovakia. Ilian Metev’s film documents the fact that Sofia’s population may be more than a million, but it has only 13 ambulances in working order. In Pictures of the Old World, Dušan Hanák was inspired by photographer Martin Martinček and explores the impoverished existence of various villagers. One old man falls, half breaking the eggs he tries to sell in town, and we see him desperately still trying to flog them. Another man we see shuffling around on all fours as he feeds the hens; his legs lost in an accident many years earlier.
Two for the Road (Eureka) ●●●● sneaks up on you; a Stanley Donen film from 1967 that seems initially a little too enamoured with its own intricate editing structure, in time this account of a couple’s marriage settles into a coherent genealogy of loving and living, well played by Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney.
I Clowns (Eureka) ●●●● is a very welcome release, an early 70s Federico Fellini film that could be described as a documentary account of various well-known figures, but it is closer to Welles’ F for Fake in its insistence that we take it first of all as a work of a master having fun rather than a work of verisimilitude.
Also worth a look is GW Pabst’s Diary of a Lost Girl (Eureka) ●●●●, a manipulative melodrama borrowing heavily from 19th century fiction to explore a woman’s lost innocence in Weimar Germany.
Made during the period when blaxploitation films were directly appealing to black audiences but playing far beyond the demographic, Bill Gunn’s Ganja and Hess (Eureka) ●●● is an intriguing, essentially arthouse contribution: a vampire film closer to the tone and feel of Nosferatu than Blacula, released around the same time. Spike Lee has, incidentally, just remade it.
More recent films that should or shouldn’t be overlooked include Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida (Artificial Eye) ●●●●, a film monochrome in mood as well as in its choice of black and white, David Gordon Green’s Joe (Artificial Eye) ●●●●, Enemy (Articifial Eye) ●●●●, by Denis Villeneuve, Mr X, a documentary on Leos Carax (Artificial Eye) ●●●, Venus in Fur by Roman Polanski (Artificial Eye) ●● and Cycling with Moliere (Artificial Eye) ●●. You might be in the mood to go out as Spring arrives, but there are a few films here that makes staying in appealing too.